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Message in a nutshell

Retail giant Kingfisher, owner of B&Q, introduced its Net Positive initiative in 2012, but how has it ensured everyone is on board to effect change? James Verrinder finds out

The Bottom Line

When a company embarks on a major policy shift like Net Positive, the chances are that it will only succeed if everyone pulls in the same direction – from the boardroom right down to the stock room. Not so, explains James Walker, Kingfisher’s head of innovation.

“It’s more about getting the right information to the right people,” he says. “There’s the old saying that 80% of the people know 20% of the information and 20% know 80%, so what we’re after is getting that 80% knowing the right 20%.”

As well as making sure that the right people are hearing the right message, Walker says it is important that people are not overloaded with information about the closed loop economy and the Net Positive scheme. “The important bit is focusing on the right areas and the right places, so you’re not bombarding people. We’re trying to give the right message to the right people and, by doing that we’re getting more awareness and uptake.” Besides, he adds: “Most of the targets mean nothing to most people.”

Engaging the right people across the business is key, says Walker, such as the various buying teams. For example, energy products are handled by the property teams, while wood products are spread across several sectors. It is these teams who are responsible for filling the shelves that have a key role to play in Kingfisher’s closed loop ambition.

Engagement with suppliers is also key, but Kingfisher has to be careful to not demand too much of them, says Walker: “You need to know what exactly you want the suppliers to do. They will do as much as they can, but the process needs to be in incremental.”

Whether people are ‘thinking green’ when making business decisions does not always matter, he explains, because the end result may be more sustainability. If the logistics department buys a new fleet of vans that are 20% cheaper than the existing vehicles and are more economical to run, they have inadvertently contributed to Kingfisher’s sustainability drive.

Another factor under Net Positive is how to reduce and optimise packaging on the products it sells, some of which are shipped in from around the world. With products ranging from the extremely delicate to the robust, the packaging question is not straightforward. Walker says: “We have to balance packaging with whether the goods are actually getting damaged in transit. We’ve seen this on items that are imported.”

He says it is a fine line between making sure that packaging is being optimised but not causing an adverse effect on the goods and Kingfisher’s bottom line. One of the ways the company is trying to find a compromise is looking at a new way to move and sell power tools, such as shipping them in without cases:  “You pack them into cases here, so therefore you optimise the number that you can transport and therefore you are not transporting air in a container.”

Kingfisher’s target for 2020 is to stock 1,000 products with closed loop credentials, which means that customers will start to see small differences in the items they buy. For example, bedding plants at B&Q had traditionally been sold in polystyrene containers that needed to be snapped open and then “you would get lots of pieces of plastic that blow all over your garden”.

This has now been changed so that the packaging is biodegradable and the plant itself is in a teabag-like structure filled with coir, a natural fibre extracted from coconut husks, which reduces the amount of peat needed. Walker says: “It’s very small and very simple, but we think that it will have a massive impact. You put it in the ground and cover it with a bit of dirt and it’s done.”

UK shoppers may also find themselves being given options that are available to Kingfisher customers across Europe. In Poland, for example, some products are rented out rather than being sold, and the company is looking into how that could be emulated in UK operations. Shoppers in France have recently been introduced to a new “click together” tiling system that uses a rubber gasket instead of grout.

Individually, these are small changes but, collectively, they should create a net positive effect.

James Walker will be speaking at this year’s RWM in partnership with CIWM exhibition, held on 16-18 September at the Birmingham NEC.

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